“The Bees Knees” by Brubarell

Leadership Animal #2: The Bee

Remove yourself as a dependency by delegating lots

Tom Sommer
Jul 4, 2018 · 3 min read

Most of the adult bees in a colony are workers. They cooperate to build the hive, collect food, and care for the young. Each worker has a specific task to perform, depending on its age. Young worker bees clean the hive and feed the offspring. Older worker bees build the waxy honeycomb or guard the hive. The oldest worker bees leave the hive to find food. — ck-12

Bees are fascinating animals. Not only do they produce delicious honey, they are also great as a team. Bees have lots of different roles and responsibilities, and each of the roles gets executed independently. There is no central boss bee. No single bee has to coordinate the hive. And even though there is a queen, she is another part of the system like all the others.

A well-organised hive is how I imagine a super productive team to function. Everybody is crystal clear about their responsibilities and impact. No one is dependent on someone else to do a good job. And nothing hinges on a centralised leader.

As leaders, we sometimes talk about making ourselves redundant. That we should try and get ourselves out of a job. Sounds great, right? I hand all my work to someone else and kick up my feet. And while that sounds exciting to some, it is not the idea behind it.

The goal of making yourself redundant is to remove all dependencies on yourself. The team should be 100% productive, even when you are not pulling the strings. So when I think about a healthy team environment, bees and their hives come to mind:

Create autonomy and empowerment to enable your team to work efficiently without a centralised leader.

Delegating

A great tool to ensure you as the leader are not the linchpin for everything is to delegate lots.

Surprisingly, delegation has a bit of a negative image. Some use it to get rid of the annoying tasks on their plate. That is just wrong. It should not be. It can be so much more. Delegation can motivate, create buy-in and grow people. It can also improve team morale and productivity.

To achieve all that, here are a few basic rules to follow:

  1. Delegate the What and Why, not the How. Do not tell people how to do their job, but give them clear goals about what they should achieve. Otherwise, you are not delegating but directing and micro-managing.
  2. Set clear expectations. As part of setting the goals, you should be explicit about what you expect from the other person. Whether that is a certain level of quality or a particular way of communicating the results.
  3. Provide Support. Delegating is not about throwing someone in the deep end without help. It is about setting others up for success. Check in often and set clear milestones.
  4. Be a teacher. Every delegated task should enable the other person to grow. Define the learning goals and share them upfront.

Takeaway

Successful teams share lots with a beehive. Everybody knows their role and can work independently. One tool to foster a more hive-like environment is delegation. So if you want a hyper-productive team that can function without you, think of bees and hives (or just remember to buzz buzz buzz):

Create autonomy and empowerment to enable your team to work efficiently without a centralised leader.

The Leadership Animals series associates good leadership practices with animals, to make these practices easier to remember and apply.

To see the full collection of animals, head to the introduction article.

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Tom Sommer

Written by

Writing about Leadership and Personal Development. Director of Engineering @ Redbubble.

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Stories, learnings & expertise from the team behind Rebubble.com